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Football: Tottenham sign Dumitrescu for pounds 2.6m: Ardiles shows ambition by buying Romanian World Cup hero and chasing two Brazilians as Venables prepares for Latin test

OSSIE ARDILES' ambition to turn Tottenham Hotspur into a serious Premiership force was significantly strengthened yesterday when the club paid Steaua Bucharest pounds 2.6m for Ilie Dumitrescu, the much-admired Romanian, and offered pounds 1.4m for another forward, the Brazilian Muller.

Spurs begin the season six points adrift following FA sanctions for financial irregularites. The signing of the prolific Dumitrescu, scorer of 74 goals in 170 Steaua appearances, will encourage Ardiles' belief that the starting handicap can be quickly overcome. Dumitrescu's arrival is particularly well timed as Spurs premier striker, Teddy Sheringham, is still troubled by an ankle injury.

Dumitrescu said he hoped 'to bring a nice patch of colour to the world's physically strongest league', but made it clear that the Premiership was not his first choice.

'Like any Romanian, initially I wanted to play for a club in Italy or Spain, but negotiations collapsed at the last minute. I will get to know English football, whose characteristics are totally different from the Latin school of football to which Romanian football belongs.'

The quiet, intelligent Dumitrescu, who enjoyed an excellent World Cup is so popular in his homeland that the head of Romania's Orthodox Church presented him with a rare edition of the bible on his 25th birthday in January. Dumitrescu, who still needs to pass tomorrow's medical and acquire a work permit, is the third Romanian Spurs have been linked with: Gheorghe Hagi joined Barcelona while Florin Raducioiu yesterday moved to Espanol.

Muller, Spurs' newest target, was a member of Brazil's USA '94 squad but is better known for the goal which evicted Scotland from Italia '90. Jose Paulo de Andrade, a spokesman for Muller's club, Sao Paulo, said: 'Osvaldo Ardiles had dinner with Muller in Sao Paulo the day before yesterday and the player is very keen to go to England. But Sao Paulo will try to keep him, perhaps until the start of next year.'

Ardiles is clocking up some air miles; negotiations continue with Bordeaux's pounds 2m-rated Marcio Santos, although the tall, mobile stopper is known to favour Fiorentina.

Another post-World Cup saga, the chase for Alexi Lalas, appeared to have ended yesterday when the Italians of Padova insisted they had signed the American centre- half who had stirred Coventry City's interest. 'Lalas faxed us a signed copy of the contract today,' Padova's spokesman said. Lalas arrives on a one-season loan from the United States Soccer Federation.

Bryan Robson, Middlesbrough's player-manager, is waiting for Home Office approval before using Bolivia's highly-rated forward, Jaime Moreno, in friendlies at Raith Rovers and Ayr United this weekend. The 20-year-old is valued at pounds 500,000 by his Blooming club.

Phil King, the Sheffield Wednesday left-back, is training with Aston Villa, who have agreed a pounds 200,000 fee but want to gauge his fitness.

Fans' protest fear, page 39

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